The Silver Bullet ~ A Quiet Place Part II

Synopsis:  Forced to venture into the unknown, the Abbott family realize the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats that lurk beyond the sand path.

Release Date:  March 20, 2020

Thoughts: When A Quiet Place debuted in 2018, it became a sleeper hit and earned co-writer/director/star John Krasinski major kudos in Hollywood for delivering an old-fashioned thriller that capitalized on restraint.  One strong point about it is that is Krasinksi and his team wrapped things up so well it felt like a sequel wasn’t necessary…but you know how a movie studio desperate for a non-franchise hit reacts when a minor budgeted film strikes gold.  Yep…another chapter of A Quiet Place is completed and waiting for its March release and here is the first full trailer.

Sneaking a small teaser into theaters several weeks ago, I sort of thought that might be a nice place to end the marketing and preserve some mystery.  After all, we knew who was coming back (Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns who nearly earned an Oscar nomination for the first film), Noah Jupe (Ford v. Ferrari) and Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck) so aside from that we didn’t totally need the lengthy preview that Paramount just released.  If you haven’t seen the first film or want to keep Part II spoiler-free, I suggest you refrain from watching this…as nicely put together as it is, I’m not sure I wanted to know certain things before seeing the finished movie.

31 Days to Scare ~ Haunt

The Facts:

Synopsis: On Halloween, a group of friends encounter an “extreme” haunted house that promises to feed on their darkest fears. The night turns deadly as they come to the horrifying realization that some nightmares are real.

Stars: Katie Stevens, Will Brittain, Lauryn Alisa McClain, Andrew Caldwell, Shazi Raja, Schuyler Helford

Director: Scott Beck & Bryan Woods

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Let me tell you, every October I go on high alert looking for a newer horror film I can get behind.  With so many ways for filmmakers to deliver scares to us now (theatrically, streaming, etc.) it can be tough to keep track of everything that comes out so it’s best to go where the buzz is.  Horror fans are a picky bunch and while we often will feast happily on even meager scraps if available, when there’s the opportunity to eat like royalty we’ll let everyone else know what’s for dinner.  So when I heard Haunt was gathering some strong word of mouth momentum in its on-demand release I made it a priority to get it to it before the month was over.

I’ve come to not put too much credence in advertising for horror movies that say “from the writers of” or “from the studio that brought you” just because it rarely equates to little more than evoking your positive thoughts of that previous release.  In the case of Haunt, the presence of producer Eli Roth (The House with a Clock in Its Walls) didn’t intrigue me as much as the bit about the film coming from the writers of the clever surprise hit A Quiet Place, Scott Beck & Bryan Woods.  Beck and Woods direct Haunt as well and it’s interesting to note it finished filming in November 2017, the same time as A Quiet Place, though it’s only coming out now.  Whatever the delays were, they were worth it because Haunt is a real diamond in the rough – a focused horror movie that, while not always original in thought, is genuinely scary.

As a way to clear her mind after breaking up with her abusive boyfriend, Harper (Katie Stevens) spends Halloween night with her roommate Bailey (Lauryn Alisa McClain) and their two friends Angela (Shazi Raja) and Mallory (Schuyler Helford).  A noisy club doesn’t prove to be any fun and definitely doesn’t get them in the Halloween spirit so after meeting Nathan (Will Brittain, Everybody Wants Some!!) and Evan (Andrew Caldwell) the group decides to look for another venue that’s a bit more in line with the spooky holiday.  A flyer boasting an Extreme Haunted House catches their eye and before you know it the six are headed out into the middle of nowhere searching for the location where the big scares are.  We’ve already seen a little of the inside during the credit sequence, watching an unseen figure making preparations but it isn’t clear until they arrive just how isolated it is.

Now, if Haunt were made ten years ago audiences may have balked at the willingness of the guys and gals to enter the sketchy looking industrial rundown warehouse but we’re in the era when an old-school haunted house just doesn’t cut it.  Many scare-hounds are now looking for that extra bit of realism and lived-in experience that puts them in the center of an attraction that feels dangerous.  So when Harper and her friends have to sign waivers and relinquish their cell phones it doesn’t seem that odd of a request.  At first, the space seems fairly standard but the deeper they travel (and the more clown-mask wearing staff they meet) the more they realize this really isn’t like anything they’ve seen before, it’s far deadlier.  As they are separated by various detours and trap doors they are hunted by a malevolent gang sporting nightmare-inducing masks and maybe something even freakier underneath.

Blessedly, while Haunt is gore-heavy it’s not of the Saw variety where it veers toward torturous rather than creative.  As someone that has worked in a similar haunted house that was built from the ground up inside an old factory, the production design is spot on and is elaborate enough to suggest significant work went into the mazes and puzzle rooms but not so over designed that it would come off as unbelievable.  Also, a few of the rooms are super creepy and unsettling, with an eerie menace that’s helped along by solid performances from the cast.  The make-up effects are well done and more than a few sights for sure gave me goosebumps.

It’s also nice to report that Haunt actually has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  There’s no prolonged finale that drags on or multiple fake-outs capped off with a last blast to goose you up and out of your seat.  Though it may strain just a tiny bit to get past that 90 minute marker, it does so by taking its time with the stalking scenes.  This gives the terrorized guests an actual shot at fighting back instead of just rolling over and awaiting their fate.  Attempts at character development are noble, though it’s really only Harper that gets any kind of major movement in that area.  The motives for the staff of the haunted house aren’t quite clear but their actions speak (scream) louder than words.

Easily a top recommendation in 2019 for those looking for something brand new to tune into this Halloween, Haunt is handled with care and intelligence.  It provides the requisite scares but also supplies another layer of creepy that is much appreciated.  I can see this being one people are excited to discover down the line and it’s absolutely one I’d enjoy introducing friends to.

Movie Review ~ A Quiet Place

The Facts:

Synopsis: A family lives an isolated existence in utter silence, for fear of an unknown threat that follows and attacks at any sound.

Stars: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds

Director: John Krasinski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: It would be a smart movie for theaters to support concession-free screenings of A Quiet Place because nothing will ruin this movie more than a noisy candy-wrapper or your neighbor munching on a tray of nachos. It would also save the clean up afterwards from people absent-mindedly spilling their popcorn in fright. Director John Krasinki’s slick, tension filled freak-out of a horror film makes for a monumentally entertaining movie-going experience and one that will, I think, hold-up on repeat viewings.

Set several years in the future, the world has been invaded by blind creatures that hunt by sound. Vicious and apt to strike without warning, they’ve decimated populations and driven the few survivors into hiding.   When A Quiet Place opens, we meet Evelyn (Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow), Lee (Krasinski, Aloha), and their children as they venture into town in search of medication. Speaking in sign language and walking barefoot to avoid any unwanted noise, the family clearly knows the rules to abide by in order to avoid drawing attention to themselves from three monsters that roam the area.

Back on their farm, Lee and Evelyn try to keep a sense of normalcy amidst the terror. Son Marcus (Noah Jupe, Suburbicon) and daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds, Wonderstruck) play Monopoly with cotton balls and felt cutouts and are silently homeschooled by Evelyn while Lee continues to try to contact the outside world. They build a nightly bonfire on top of their silo and watch for other sequestered families to do the same, desperately trying to remain connected with those in similar situations.

Originally conceived as a totally dialogue free film, screenwriters Bryan Woods and Scott Beck team with Krasinski on a screenplay that is still light on dialogue but one that winds up saying a lot. There’s no backstory provided, save for brief glimpses of newspaper clippings and a white board filled with information on the creatures. Audiences are left to fill in the blanks and much credit should go to Kransiski for handling these large chunks of exposition in a decidedly un-fussy fashion.

At 90 minutes including credits, the film makes the most of its short running time by maximizing on sustained bursts of tension. This is one where you can’t help but find yourself white-knuckling your armrest (or your companion’s arm) as scene after scene ratchets up the fear level until it’s almost unbearable to watch. You’ll cringe at every creak in the floor, wince when you can see an unwanted noise on the horizon, and fight the urge to yelp when Krasinki introduces several well-timed jump scares.

Beautifully photographed by Charlotte Bruus Christensen (Far from the Madding Crowd) and scored with restrained flair by the usually bombastic Marco Beltrami (World War Z), Krasinski has assembled a talented group on both sides of the camera. Spouses in real life, Blunt and Krasinki have an easy chemistry that feels unforced, as does their nurturing relationships with their children. With several high profile roles in 2017, Jupe continues to impress and works well opposite the striking Simmonds who is actually deaf. The film benefits from Simmonds mesmerizing presence in every way, often switching to her perspective by having the sound completely removed.

Along with the scares, the movie has a few unexpected twists along the way that I wouldn’t dare reveal here. One happens fairly early on and others emerge naturally as the film goes for broke in its relentless final act. Though the creatures are the product of solid special effects, Krasinski keeps them largely out of full view until the conclusion. There’s a lot of work done in close quarters, further heightening the immediacy of the danger facing this family.

A worthy spree of scares, A Quiet Place may face some criticism for being too simple of a set-up and execution but I was bowled over by Krasinski’s efforts. Add to that a quartet of dynamite performances and more jolts than you’d imagine and you have a film that’s easy to recommend. Just make sure you keep a firm grip on your popcorn.